As winter beckons, many of us lucky to have gardens or allotments will start to think about what we’d like to grow next year. Over the next few months, there will be prep work to do, getting the ground ready for planting and (hopefully) the abundance of spring and summer to come.
Nowadays, gardening is for most people a leisure activity: even those with allotments rarely grow food because they have to. But in the culture of Jesus’ day, as it still is for many places around the world today, the growing season was vital for their life and future. Most families would only eat what they – or their fellow villagers – could grow. Preparing the soil and sowing the seed was part of the fabric of life.
But what about the soil of our lives? What makes for abundant growth and fruitful harvest? Conversely, what stifles growth and leaves us choked with weeds?
Today’s passage is one of Jesus’ most famous parables, and we’re also fortunate that it’s one which he explains to us. At one level he does the hard work for us! And yet, the real value of this timeless story lies in what we do with the meaning. In just a few verses, Jesus presents us with a vision of how to live – and also how not to live – a fruitful life. He gets to the heart of what real ‘success’ is, and how we sustain this kind of fruitfulness long-term.
And it is all a matter of what we do with God’s Word in our lives. Let’s note that this Word (seed) is inherently fruitful. As long as the soil is good, it will multiply the benefit ’30, 60 or a 100 times’. It is powerful and amazingly abundant. But it can be rendered ineffective by other factors, and it is these that form the real challenge of the parable.
For the Word to bear fruit it needs to go deep into our hearts – if it stays shallow, it won’t withstand troubles in life. It can also be choked: either by worries, or by the distractions of wealth and the pursuit of other dreams or pleasures.
Life is a long journey, and the great treasure of this parable is that it brings us back to first principles; it makes us take a fresh look at where we are now. Is anything ‘choking’ us? Are we going deep or staying shallow? God is good, and merciful, and he is well able to ‘restore our soil’ – and our soul! Give thanks for the work of the Word in your life; and pray for it to become ever more fruitful – just as it’s meant to be.